Spatial distribution of carbon in the subsurface of riparian zones

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Soil C supplies vary spatially within and among riparian wetlands. Understanding this variability is essential to assessments of C-dependent riparian wetland functions such as water quality enhancement and C storage. In this study, we examined the distribution of C with depth across the riparian landscape. Our objectives were to describe the spatial distribution of various C forms in the subsurface of riparian wetlands, and to identify the watershed, landscape, and soil characteristics that govern the distribution of these forms. Twenty-two riparian sites, mapped as alluvial or outwash soils, were examined along first-through fourth-order streams. Soils were described from pits and auger borings along transects established perpendicular to the stream. Roots and buried A horizons represent the majority of C in the subsurface, representing an important source of C for riparian zone functions. Buried A horizons and C-rich lenses, indicative of alluvial soils, were identified in 21 of the 22 sites. Higher order riparian zones tended to have greater quantities of alluvium. Roots were generally distributed to the greatest depths close to the streams where alluvial deposits were thickest. All first-, second-, and third-order riparian zones were mapped as outwash soils on county-scale soil surveys. These sites, however, contained predominantly alluvial soils, suggesting that soil surveys at the 1:15,840 scale are inadequate for identifying alluvial soils along lower order streams. To assess the best predictors of alluvium distribution within riparian zones, 11 watershed characteristics were examined. A forward stepwise regression revealed that watershed size and floodplain width are two of the most important indicators of the quantity, width, and depth of alluvium, and subsequently subsurface C, within glaciated riparian zones. © Soil Science Society of America.

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Soil Science Society of America Journal